Surgical smoke: a review of the literature. Is this just a lot of hot air?

Surg Endosc. 2003 Jun;17(6):979-87. doi: 10.1007/s00464-002-8584-5. Epub 2003 Mar 19.


Surgical smoke is omnipresent in the day-to-day life of the surgeon and other medical personnel who work in the operating room. In addition, patients are also exposed, especially and uniquely so in laparoscopic cases where smoke is created and trapped in a closed and absorptive space. Surgical smoke has typically been produced by electrocautery but is now ever more present in a new form with the burgeoning use of the laser and the harmonic scalpel. Several cases of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) from patient to treating professional via laser smoke have alerted us to the reality that surgical smoke in certain situations is far form benign. However, surgeons rarely take measures to protect themselves, their co-coworkers and patients from surgical smoke. Should we and, if so, how do we differentiate between different types of smoke and should we move toward increasing our efforts to protect ourselves, our co-workers, and patients from it? This article attempts to sort through the available data and draw some reasonable conclusions regarding surgical smoke. In general, surgical smoke is a biohazard and cannot be ignored. At a minimum, surgical smoke is a toxin similar to cigarette smoke. However, other dangers exist. This is especially true in specific circumstances such as when tissue infected with dangerous viruses is aerosolized by lasers. In addition, smoke generated by the harmonic scalpel, being a relatively cold vapor similar to laser smoke, should be further investigated for its potential ill effects and until then, looked upon with reasonable caution. Although not a high-priority in most surgical cases, surgeons should support efforts to minimize OR personnel, patients, and their own exposure to surgical smoke.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / methods


  • Smoke